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Trail Markers

1862 Peninsula Campaign - In April 1862, Union Gen. George B. McClellan began marching his huge Army of the Potomac west up the Peninsula between the James and York Rivers from Fort Monroe to Richmond, the Confederate capital. Gen. John B. Magruder’s forces delayed the Federals for almost a month at Yorktown. Reinforced by Gen. Joseph E. Johnston but still vastly outnumbered, the Confederates withdrew fighting up the Peninsula to Richmond. Gen. Robert E. Lee took command of the Army of Northern Virginia when Johnston fell wounded on May 31. Beginning on June 26, Lee counter-attacked and forced the Federals away from the city in a series of actions known as the Seven Days’ Battles. The fighting ended after the bloody Battle of Malvern Hill on July 1. McClellan eventually withdrew to Fort Monroe. Follow in the footsteps of one of the largest troop movements in military history. Virginia Civil War Trails’ 1862 Peninsula Campaign: Civil War in Tidewater is a 125-mile tour route that allows you to explore more than 60 sites in Tidewater Virginia. Please drive carefully as you enjoy the history and beauty along the trail.

Advancing on Richmond - Laurel Hill Church marked the farthest extent of the Federal advance west toward Richmond during the two-pronged attacks on the city’s Confederate defenses on September 29, 1864. After helping capture New Market Heights (two miles east), Union Gen. Robert S. Foster’s X Corps division reached this location early in the afternoon. Foster found that the 3rd Richmond Howitzers and Confederate Gen. Martin W. Gary’s dismounted Confederate cavalry blocked New Market Road. Foster formed his brigades in two lines and advanced. Although the Federals endured devastating fire from the roadway and from nearby Fort Gilmer (two miles southeast), the assault overwhelmed the Confederate position on New Market Road. Instead of advancing toward Richmond, Foster chose to silence Fort Gilmer. U.S. Colored Troops (USCT), who had fought earlier in the morning’s victory at New Market Heights, soon joined the attack on the fort. The Confederates repulsed the assault and abruptly ended the Federal strike at Richmond.

Battle at Meadow Bridge - On May 12,1864, this crossing of the Chickahominy River was the scene of a sharp engagement between Union and Confederate cavalry. The previous day, Gen. Philip Sheridan and his Union troopers fought and defeated Gen. J.E.B. Stuart and his Confederate cavalry near Yellow Tavern. Stuart was mortally wounded during that battle. That evening, under cover of darkness and a heavy thunderstorm, Sheridan led his troopers south, through the outer defenses of Richmond and into a potentially dangerous trap. The following morning, the Union commander found himself boxed in with the manned trenched of Richmond’s intermediate defenses in his front, the swollen Chickahominy to his left and Confederate cavalry threatening his rear. To escape, the Union commander chose to force a crossing at Meadow Bridge, where the Virginia Central Railroad crossed the river. Although the Confederates had dismantled the road bridge, the railroad crossing remained intact. The responsibility for seizing this span was given to Gen. George Custer. Throughout the morning and early afternoon, while Southern cavalry pressed from behind and government clerks and workers-turned soldiers sallied forth from the city’s fortifications, Custer worked hard to clear the north bank of the Chickahominy of the stubborn Confederate troopers. After gaining a foothold on the Confederate side of the river, Custer’s men kept the Southerners pinned down while Union pioneers repaired the road bridge and planked the railroad span. By 4 pm, the bridge was open and Union soldiers crossed the swollen stream. Sweeping resistance aside, Sheridan successfully pulled his men out of the trap and pointed the head of his column toward Mechanicsville and out of harm’s way. Two days later, the Union commander led his cavalrymen to the safety of the James River, ending a raid on Richmond begun five days earlier.

Battle of Darbytown (New Market) Road, One Last Advance - The last advance by the Army of Northern Virginia north of the James River took place directly across New Market Road in October 1864, on orders of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. Gen. Charles W. Field’s division, with Gen. Robert F. Hoke’s division in support, was to overwhelm Union Gen. August V. Kautz’s cavalry division on Darbytown Road and then turn south to recapture Fort Harrison, which the Federals had occupied on September 29. The battle began successfully at dawn on October 7 as the combined Confederate assault overpowered the Union cavalry stationed on Darbytown Road. Two hours elapsed before the attack could continue, however, giving Union Gen. Alfred H. Terry time to redeploy his division to face the Confederate attack in the fields just north of here. For unknown reasons, Hoke’s division failed to support Field. Union infantry, armed with Spencer repeating rifles, inflicted heavy casualties on the Confederates. Wooded, difficult terrain caused disorganization among the Confederate brigades. At the height of the fighting, Confederate Gen. John Gregg was shot in the neck and killed while leading his Texas brigade. The attack soon fell apart, and the remnants of the Confederate force withdrew west to their original defensive lines. Lee’s last advance north of the James River resulted in more than 1,000 Confederate casualties while the Federals suffered fewer than 500.

Battle of Darbytown Road - A massive two-pronged Union attack on September 29, 1864, captured New Market Heights and a section of Richmond’s outer defenses including Fort Harrison. Not wishing to concede a vital part of his line to the enemy, Confederate commander Robert E. Lee ordered a counterattack the next day. The assault failed miserably. Undaunted, Lee ordered a second attempt. On October 7, with cavalry and two divisions of infantry, Lee attempted to regain the lost fortifications around Fort Harrison. It would be his last major offensive north of the James River. The attack began well for the Confederates. With the support of the cavalry, Gen. Charles Field’s infantry division overwhelmed Federal cavalry under Gen. August Kautz along Darbytown Road. Following up his early success, Field turned south to attack Gen. Alfred Terry’s Federal division along New Market Road. However, Field’s support, under Gen. Robert Hoke, remained inactive. Without Hoke, Fields three brigades pushed straight ahead. Terry’s command had the advantage of fighting behind earthworks and firing with Spencer repeating rifles. The Federal artillery quickly got into the action and punished the Confederate attack. Nearly 1,000 men fell in the short, bitter struggle. By noon, the firing ceased and the Southern survivors faded away.

Battle of Savage’s Station - On the night of June 27, 1862, following the battle of Gaine’s Mill, Gen. George McClellan ordered a withdrawal of his Union army to the James River. In the wake of the retreating army, Savage’s Station, located one half mile in front of you along the Richmond and York River Railroad, was ordered abandoned. Having served as the army’s advance supply base during the previous month, the immense stockpiles of equipment, ordnance, and commissary stores located there were to be destroyed. Hoping to catch McClellan on the move, Gen. Robert E. Lee ordered an attack at Savage’s Station on June 29. Confederate troops under Gen. John B. Magruder encountered the Federal rear guard near the station in the late afternoon. In a twilight battle, Union forces under Gen. Edwin V “Bull” Sumner held back the Southern assaults while McClellan proceeded southward. When darkness put an end to the battle, 444 Confederates and 919 Northerners were counted as casualties. That night, Sumner withdrew from the station and followed McClellan south across White Oak Swamp.

Dabbs House - In May 1862, Gen. George McClellan’s Union army was poised on the outskirts of Richmond threatening the Confederate capital. Here, in the Dabbs House, Robert E. Lee, as new commander of the Army of Northern Virginia, opened his headquarters on June 1, 1862. Four days later, he had shaped the strategy that would free Richmond from the Army of the Potomac. Two notable conferences occurred here. The first, on June 11, brought cavalryman Gen. J.E.B.Stuart to plan with Lee the famous ride around the Union Army. That feat, which covered 100 miles in 72 hours, electrified stagnant morale among citizens and soldiers alike and was the first flash in Stuart’s meteoric career. Almost two weeks later, on June 23, Lee assembled his top subordinates for the first time. Using information gathered from Stuart’s ride, he unveiled his plan to drive the Northern army away from Richmond. This event, often called “The Dabbs House Meeting,” was the first step in the series of battles known as the Seven Days that introduced Lee to the world as a talented general.

Deep Bottom Landing - After the Battle of Cold Harbor in June 1864, Grant and Lee shifted their armies to Petersburg; but Grant did not wish to abandon the Richmond front entirely. He had Gen. Benjamin Butler position a small force from his Army of the James here at Deep Bottom Landing to protect the pontoon bridge which allowed Union forces to move back and forth across the James River. As part of an overall strategy to defeat Lee’s main army at Petersburg, Federal detachments launched attacks from here on July 25 and August 13, 1864. Stiff Confederate resistance foiled both efforts. On September 29, 1864, a third attempt, spearheaded by two brigades of United States Colored Troops (USCT), resulted in the capture of New Market Heights. The Army of the James continued to use the key river crossing at Deep Bottom until the end of the war.

Lee vs Grant - Early in May 1864, Gen. Ulysses S. Grant hoped to end the Civil War by attacking confederate armies simultaneously throughout the South. The commander in chief of all U.S. armies, Grant, accompanied Gen. George G. Meade’s Army of the Potomac as it campaigned against Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. Lee sought defended Richmond, the Confederate capital; Grant and Meade maneuvered south and east around Lee’s right flank toward the city. In a series of horrifically bloody battles, the Union generals forced Lee into defensive positions, such as the earthworks you see here, east of Richmond and Petersburg by late June. Instead of battles in the open, trench warfare would occupy the next ten months until Lee evacuated the cities in April 1865. Follow in the footsteps of Gens. Lee and Grant along the Virginia Civil War Trails 1864 Overland Campaign, a 125-mile tour route that allows you to explore more than 60 sites in central Virginia. Please drive carefully as you enjoy the history and beauty along the trail.

Meadow Farm - Union Gen. Philip Sheridan used the Mountain Road during his 1864 raid toward Richmond. His lengthy column of 12,000 horsemen passed here on the morning of May 11. The troopers spread out to destroy many miles of railroad track at Ashland, Allen’s Station (now known as Glen Allen), and Hungary Station. Shortly after passing here, Sheridan’s men encountered J.E.B. Stuart’s 3,000-man command blocking their route, which brought on the Battle of Yellow Tavern. The Sheppard family lived at Meadow Farm during the Civil War. Dr. John Sheppard, a physician and farmer, his wife and nine children all felt the impact of the war. Alexander Hamilton, Dr. Sheppard’s oldest son, was a guard at Libby Prison, a Confederate prison for captured Union soldiers. Since the fall of 1863, the Confederate Government required farmers including Dr. Sheppard to turn over one-tenth of all their crops and meat as a tax in kind “for the common defense and [to] carry on the government of the Confederate states.” The loss of needed crops, shortages of basic consumer items and escalating inflation all contributed to the deteriorating quality of southern life.

New Market Heights - New Market Heights On September 29, 1864, this ground was the scene of combat as Union Gen. Benjamin F. Butler directed a two-pronged attack on Confederate defenses here. Part of his force crossed the James River at Deep Bottom, about two miles southeast, and marched toward you. One wing attacked Fort Harrison, three miles to your right front, while the other assaulted the Confederate earthworks across the road in front of you. To slow the attack, the defenders placed abatis—felled trees with intertwined branches pointing south—between the earthworks and swampy Four Mile Creek about three-quarters of a mile away. Col. Samuel A. Duncan’s brigade of U.S. Colored Troops (USCTs), the 4th and 6th USCT, got tangled in the abatis in the initial assault and was bloodily repulsed. Gen. Charles J. Paine then led his other USCT brigades toward you. Hardened Confederate veterans defended the line on New Market Road, including Gen. John Gregg’s Texas brigade, the 1st Rockbridge Artillery, and part of Gen. Martin Gary’s dismounted cavalry. Additional attacks, combined with the news that Fort Harrison had fallen, compelled the Confederates here to retreat with the USCTs in pursuit. Of 20 Medals of Honor awarded to black soldiers and sailors for Civil War service, 14 were given for bravery at New Market Heights. The battle proved that USCTs could fight and win largely on their own. Their courage inspired the African Americans who followed them. By war’s end, they comprised 10 percent of the entire army.

Seven Pines - Confederate Attacks on May 31,1862, designed to push the Union army away from Richmond, struck an isolated wing of the Federal Fourth Corps in this vicinity. The heaviest action took place along the Williamsburg Road. Marching from the west, men of Gen. D. H. Hill’s Division broke Gen. Silas Casey’s line and pushed on toward the Seven Pines crossroads east of here. Close-quarters fighting raged in and around Casey’s Redoubt, which stood close to this spot. Hill’s attack unleashed “the most terrible fire of musketry that I have ever witnessed,” thought Casey. Late in the day, Confederate leader Gen. Joseph E. Johnston fell wounded north of here at Fair Oaks. The next day, Gen. Robert E. Lee took command of the army. The encounter at Seven Pines was the largest battle fought in Virginia during the first 14 months of the Civil War. There were more than 70,000 troops engaged and at least 10,000 casualties.

Stuart’s Ride - The fortifications directly in front of you are part of the outer defensive line that protected the Confederate capital of Richmond. At 5 A.M. on June 12, 1862, Confederate Gen., J.E.B. Stuart and 1,200 cavalrymen, including several who knew the local roads, left their camps on the Mordecai and Young farms just behind you and passed through the line here. The newly appointed Confederate commander, Gen. Robert E. Lee, had ordered Stuart’s cavalry to probe the Federal army for weaknesses and to locate the positions of the Union flanks. Riding north on the Brook Turnpike (to your right), the column passed through the outer defenses at this point to begin what became Stuart’s famed ride that circled Union Gen. George B. McClellan’s army. In the spring of 1862, before Lee’s counterattack, Confederate engineer Maj. Walter H. Stevens strengthened Richmond’s fortifications, largely with slave labor. Lee utilized the terrain and the strong earthworks to reduce the number of soldiers needed to protect the city at any given location and to free more men for combat. The lines were attacked and abandoned to the Federal army three times during the war.

Trent House - Between June 12 and June 28, 1862, Union Gen. George B. McClellan maintained his headquarters here at the Trent House. Known as “Reynoldsville,” the house dates from about 1825. During the Civil War, it was the home of Dr. Peterfield Trent who served in the Confederate army as a surgeon in a local defense regiment. In 1862, the main road ran on the other side of the house to the west. McClellan pitched his headquarters tents under some walnut trees about 100 yards east of the house. Here, accompanied by his extensive staff, the general planned the final phases of his campaign to conquer Richmond. The house and surrounding fields became the nerve center of the Army of the Potomac. Telegraph wires ran in all directions; a signal station stood nearby and intelligence-gathering aeronaut Thaddeus S.C.Lowe periodically raised one of his observation balloons from this commanding ridge. The army commander monitored the Battle of Gaines’ Mill from here on June 27, 1862. Knowing that his plans for capturing Richmond no longer were feasible, McClellan called a council of war that night. Joined by his corps commanders at a roaring campfire, he announced his plans to abandon the lines in front of Richmond and retreat southward toward anew base on the James River. The meeting, which disheartened the corps commanders, lasted until almost 2 am. The headquarters facility moved to Savage’s Station that morning, and shortly after to the James River.

White Oak Swamp - After the twilight battle at Savage’s Station on June 29, 1862, the Army of the Potomac abandoned the final remnants of its line in front of Richmond and retreated through the darkness toward the James River. Once across White Oak Swamp, the Union army deployed at several key spots to challenge the Confederate pursuit. Here at White Oak Swamp Bridge, two Federal divisions-led by Gen. William F. Smith and Gen. Israel Richardson-occupied the heights one-third of a mile south of the swamp. Confederate Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, at the head of 25,000 men, arrived on the north bank of the swamp at noon on June 30 and found the bridge here destroyed. The noise of the heavy fighting at Glendale, three miles southwest, “made me eager to press forward,” Jackson later wrote, but he was unable to do so during the remaining eight hours of daylight. The failure of this and two of the other three Confederate columns to press forward robbed Lee of his offensive punch, and allowed for a successful Union defense of the roads to the James River.

Yellow Tavern - While Grant and Lee fought at Spotsylvania, Gen. Philip H. Sheridan took 12,000 Federal cavalry on a raid toward Richmond. After destroying a large Confederate supply depot at Beaver Dam Station, Sheridan’s troopers met 4,000 Southern cavalrymen under Gen.J.E.B. Stuart near here at Yellow Tavern on May 11, 1864. Union cavalry attacked from the west and in heavy hand-to-hand fighting drove Gen. Lunsford Lomax’s Brigade from Telegraph Road before pushing northward. Late in the day, while the Richmond local defense troops gathered to guard the capital, Sheridan attacked Stuart on this high ground. The Confederate line shatttered. Stuart fell fatally wounded here while rallying his men. Although the road to Richmond seemed open, Sheridan chose to skirt the city and rejoin Grant’s army.

 
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